Los Arboles released from lawsuits
By Jesse Phelps
After years of litigation and
months of scrutinizing, Judge Melinda Johnson has released her
final ruling on Los Arboles II, a suit targeting the proposed
luxury condominium project on South Montgomery Sreet.
Her decision: full speed ahead.
In a separate ruling on Wednesday, Judge Steven Hintz completely
rejected the validity of Los Arboles III, another suit aimed
at stopping construction until the previous suits are settled,
according to developer Lance Smigel.
Hintz wrote, "Having considered the subject matter, the
court rules as follows: Moving parties' (the developers) requests
for judicial notice are granted. The motion denying peremptory
writ of mandate is granted." With the stoppage of the peremptory
writ, construction is free to proceed.
In her ruling, Johnson reversed
an earlier decision and deemed the development "consistent
with the general plan" for the city of Ojai.
This is great news for city attorney Monte Widders, city manager
Dan Singer, council members and developers Smigel and Lois Rice,
who have been hit hard in the pocketbook over the course of the
legal struggles, and it could mean an end to further litigation
- or not, according to one of the petitioners.
"Now that the general plan's all fixed, we can't raise any
objections except on appeal," said Ivor Benci-Woodward of
the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai. "There are several issues
(Johnson) didn't explain. Other than that, we can't really comment
on it yet."
Benci-Woodward, however, did comment further, enough to explain
that despite the latest rulings going in favor of the developers,
he saw something of a victory for his organization as well.
"We win the first part of the case," he said. "The
court has said, 'Yeah you guys were right and you're going to
get paid for it. Yes, the city fixed things, but you'll get paid
for what you did.'"
Benci-Woodward said the reimbursements
could total up $75,000 for two years of work by the CPO's two
Smigel contradicted this, saying the court was silent on the
subject of fees. "Since they certainly didn't prevail on
Los Arboles III and only partially prevailed on Los Arboles II,
I think it's a matter for the court.
Because the developers were forced
to stop and clarify," said Smigel, "It could be seen
as prevailing. However, since they ultimately lost the case,
the court finding the city and real parties did comply, there's
some question as to whether they truly prevailed."
"Los Arboles II and Los Arboles III are over, I believe,"
continued Smigel. "It's my understanding that the only course
of action would be appeal. With rulings this carefully, this
thoughtfully, delivered, the motives of an appeal would be transparent.
I think that the petitioners
know that the likelihood of prevailing would be small. Therefore,
by seeking an appeal, they'd be seeking only delay."
The Ojai Valley News
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